The ringing of a school bell would normally not be something of interest in the Walworth community, but it forever changed the life of a young woman. That woman was Susan Sophia Cleveland, and her ringing of the bell at an appointed hour was music to the ears of Lucien Theron Yeomans because it meant she had accepted his marriage proposal.
Susan was born Sept. 2, 1843, in Caldwell, N.J., one of five daughters and four sons of Richard (a Presbyterian minister) and his wife, Ann (Neal) Cleveland. One of her brothers was Grover, a Buffalo assistant district attorney. He managed to save enough out of his $10 weekly pay to send Susan to college, a gesture gratefully appreciated.
Following college, Susan taught at the East Bloomfield Academy. Learning of a school principal position available at the Walworth Academy, she successfully applied for the job and moved to Walworth in the late 1860s. There she met Lucien and a romance began to develop, followed by his proposal of marriage.
There is a discrepancy in their marriage date. Local records indicate they married in 1873. However, the 1880 United States Census lists the marriage year as 1868. Upon her marriage, Susan became the wife of the Honorable Lucien Theron Yeomans, a Republican state assemblyman and prominent businessman. The Yeomans of Walworth were successful land owners, apple growers and operated a nursery business. In addition, Lucien’s father, Theron, was one of the first to import Holstein-Friesian stock from Holland to America.
Between 1883 and 1885, Susan’s brother Grover was governor of New York state and a rising star in the Democratic Party. Sometime during those two years, he spent Thanksgiving with Lucien, Susan and their five children: Ellen Louise (also known as Nellie), born in 1869; Anna Gertrude, born in 1871; May Cleveland, born in 1874; Lucien Ingraham, born in 1878; and Theron Grover, born in 1885.
According to an 1884 newspaper story, Lucien’s position in the Republican party did not change Susan’s natural impulse.
“When her husband sent a banner bearing the legend ‘Blaine and Logan’ to the top of the ‘liberty pole’ in their dooryard, Susan immediately caused to be erected alongside a second ‘liberty pole’ and just as high. From it she floated a banner bearing the inscription, ‘Cleveland and Hendricks.’ People came miles to see the anomaly, some to cheer Grover’s militant sister.”
Grover and Thomas Hendricks narrowly won the presidential election, but were defeated in the 1888 election.
Political differences were temporarily put aside when Anna and Nellie chose June 10, 1891, as their double wedding day. The wedding would be held at their parents’ home on High Street in the Walworth hamlet. Lucien would give Nellie in marriage and Uncle Grover would escort Anna. Three years earlier, President Cleveland had married Frances Folsom in the White House; she did not accompany him to Walworth in 1891.
The day of the wedding was unbearably hot. Uncle Grover and his bulk suffered through the heat as best he could. A newspaper clipping, written by Arch Merrill and titled “The Two Brides Were Beautiful — But Guests Watched the Fat Man” appeared in an area newspaper on Nov. 30, 1947. Because Grover was a guest of his sister and brother-in-law, he abided by the rules of the temperance household. However, as soon as possible, he departed for “somewhere east of Walworth, where there are deserving Democrats and a man can quench a thirst.”
Grover won the nomination again in 1892 with Adlai Stevenson I as his vice presidential running mate. They successfully ran against the incumbent Republican president, Benjamin Harrison, and vice presidential candidate Whitelaw Reid.
Susan Cleveland Yeomans died Nov. 4, 1938, in Brooklyn — the sole survivor of her siblings. Her claim to fame is not as the sister of a United States president, but as a teacher, principal, wife, mother, anti-suffragist, member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and a Democrat. Lucien died Feb. 5, 1906 (he was born Dec. 1, 1840). They are buried in Palmyra.
In 1985, Mr. and Mrs. Clifford (Emily) Huntley donated an area known as Yeomans’ Park in honor of Clifford’s great-
grandfather, Theron G. Yeomans, for a museum. A groundbreaking ceremony was held July 10, 1988, at the corner of High and Academy streets. One year later — on Sept. 18, 1989 — the museum was dedicated at the first meeting.
Dorothy Basch French is a trustee of the Walworth Historical Society. Her interest in genealogy has resulted in the publication of several books relating to family history.
“Talk to your family, ask them questions about their childhood or their parents,” she urges. “Take the time now to do this — don’t wait until you have the time because then it may be too late.”
About the Society . . .
The Walworth Historical Society is a volunteer organization, established in 1975, whose chartered purpose is to collect, preserve and display items and artifacts of historical interest and importance to the Town of Walworth and its environs. The museum (at 2257 Academy St.) is open Sundays and Wednesdays from 2 to 4 p.m. June through September, or other times by appointment by contacting President Jessie Keymel at 524-9205 or Town Historian Gene Bavis at 573-2768.